As previous reviews of mine will attest to, I am becoming a real fan of the Z-Man Games range of card games. Previous games reviewed from their series’ can be found here Queen’s Ransom – A Simple Review, Court of the Medici – A Simple Review,Chaos Card Game – A Simple Review.
Onirim is a game I have been particularly looking forward to the release of. Firstly, the sheer number of different variants in the game box represented excellent value (this in-built expansions concept seems to be quite popular at the moment, Fresco is another example), but more importantly this is a solo game that can also be played by two players, plus it has quite a cool theme.
Solo Games – One gamer’s lament
I have tried throughout my gaming life to get into solo games. I have owned and still indeed own many games that can be played solo, I also have the obligatory chess computer that allows one to play that game alone. To be honest, I have never found a game that has the potential to keep me interested enough to play solo on a repeat basis. I think Onirim potentially may be the game that breaks this drought. Why is that? Well, firstly the game has relatively simple rules that don’t take long to learn, but take some time to master. Secondly the theme of the game and the card art is excellent, it is a little quirky, slightly dark, (but not so dark that it would scare a small child which I see as a positive), so although this is a numbers game in the end, you would not think so while you are playing and ‘exploring the labyrinth’. Finally, the expansions provide a way to mix up the game quite a bit, and believe me, some of the expansions make it quite hard to win!
So congrats to Shadi Torbey on making a solo game that I have already played 6 times! Now on to the review proper.
The basic game is certainly the best place to start with Onirim, as the rules do take a short while to get your head around. You start by shuffling the deck and then dealing a hand of five cards. There are three main types of cards, labyrinth cards, door cards and dream cards.
Labyrinth cards come in four colours, red, blue green and brown (in increasing rarity order). Each colour of card can have three symbols, a sun, a moon, or a key.
Dream cards [initially] are the Nightmare Cards
Door cards come in the four colours and there are two of each of these. You are trying to find all eight doors to win the game.
Your first hand must only have labyrinth cards present, so if you draw dream or door cards, these are set aside (in the Limbo pile – the name of the pile of any temporary discards) and you keep drawing until you have 5 labyrinth cards, then you re-shuffle the limbo pile into the deck and away you go.
On your turn, you first of all either play a labyrinth card or discard a card from the game.
1. If you play a labyrinth card the only rule is that the symbol must be different each time you play a card regardless of colour. When you have played three cards of the same colour you then can search the deck for a door card of that colour and place it in front of you. It is important to note that this is only each time you play three cards, i.e. if you play a fourth card of the same colour you are back to square 1 again, you do not draw another door card.
2. If you discard a card, the only special effect is that a discarded key card allows you to look at the top 5 deck cards, discard one and then place these back on the deck. This is a good way to eliminate nightmare cards, but bear in mind that keys in your hand can allow you to pick up doors during the draw phase so be careful.
You then draw a card from the deck to replenish the card you have just played or discarded.
1. If this is a door card and you have a key of the same colour, you get that door to place in front of you! If not, set the door in the limbo pile and re-draw. If you get the door you must also re-draw.
2. If this is a labyrinth card, you add this to your hand. You then move to shuffle.
3. If this is a nightmare card, you either have to discard your entire hand, discard a door to the limbo pile, or draw the top five cards and discard any labyrinth cards (doors and dreams into Limbo). Once complete you will then draw another card to being yourself to five.
You then shuffle any limbo cards back into the deck and repeat.
You win if you get all doors into play in front of you, you lose if the deck runs out and you cannot re-draw to 5.
Opinion of the basic game
The basic game is good fun, and not especially easy to win consistently. Luck plays a big role of course, but there is some strategy around card colour conservation [or not at times] and what to do with your keys. I have won a few times and lost a few times which is a good sign I think. Nightmares that are unexpected are especially painful, especially when you need 2 blue doors and see 5 blue cards in a row get discarded!
The great added bonus of this game is three expansions that can be used to add flavour and complexity to the base game. I will cover each of these below in brief:
The Book of Steps Lost and Found
In this expansion, you have a set of eight extra door cards that you deal out at the start of the game. You then have to find your labyrinth doors in that colour order. This is quite difficult in my opinion having played this once and failed miserably. The additional piece to this expansion is that you can use cards from your discard pile to cast spells. In the easy version the costs are 5,7,10 cards for the spells respectively, 6,9,12 if you are a real glutton for punishment!
Spell 1 – Paradoxical Prophecy – take 1 card from the bottom five of the deck and put on top
Spell 2 – Parallel Planning – swap the order of two doors
Spell 3 – Powerful Punishment – nullify effect of one nightmare card.
The Towers expansion is similarly tricky. You add 12 tower cards to the deck, 3 of each colour (these are treated as labyrinth cards). You play towers above your normal labyrinth cards, you are trying to play four different coloured towers in a row, to create ‘an alignment of towers’. If you discard a tower, you get to look at the next 3,4, or 5 cards in the deck based on the number on the card. The cards also can only be played with different symbols on adjacent sides, e.g. a card with a moon on its left side, cannot sit next to a card with a moon on its right side. If you draw a nightmare card you have to discard a played tower, or the nightmare gets put in the limbo pile rather than discarded. You do not have to discard a tower if you have an alignment of towers. Again, this expansion makes the game quite a bit trickier to win, especially if you play the variant where even with an alignment of towers you have to discard a tower!
Dark Premonitions and Happy Dreams
In the final expansion, you select 4 of the 8 available Dark Premonitions cards. These are various conditions that, when satisfied have an immediate effect on the game. For example, when two red door cards are on the table, you have to discard all other available red cards in the deck. Some of these effects are quite nasty, for example when any five doors are on the table, another two dark premonition cards come into play. Finally the happy dreams are a welcome positive effect card, these allow you to either  choose a card and put it to the top of the deck,  pick up the top 7 cards, discard what you want then replace them, or  cancel a Dark Premonition card in play. I probably like this expansion the most thus far, in fact when I played the first time, I managed to win with the last card drawn – phew!
There is a lot to like about Onirim, and it will continue to reward the patient gamer. You get a lot of value for your money with a great base game and three quality and quite distinct expansions. I really enjoy this as a solo game, and suspect it would be fun for 2 players as well. I think the card art is great as is the quality overall of the presentation. So, in summary, this one gets a big thumbs up from me.
P.S – I hope I get the word ‘labyrinth’ as a word to spell in some sort of competition, I don’t think I can forget how to spell it after writing this review!! (Although first edit of this was to correct a misspelt one – classic!)
This review was first published in Boardgamegeek by Guy Mullarkey